L to R: Bill Welsh, Public Works Crew Leader, Patrick Martin, Public Works Maintenance Superintendent, Brad Elledge, Public Works Crew Leader. Photo credit: Valley News Staff
The snow events in recent weeks have had residents breaking out the snow blowers and snow shovels to dig out a path from their doorstep to the road. We rely on City snow plows to keep the roads clear, and rarely give the workers behind the plows much thought, unless it is to curse them for piling snow up at the end of our driveways.
Valley News recently sat down with three members of the Public Works Department to learn more about the work they do in the City and how they keep our streets clear and safe during the winter months. Joining in the discussion was Patrick Martin, Public Works Maintenance Superintendent; Brad Elledge, Public Works Crew Leader; and Bill Welsh, Public Works Crew Leader. We started out by discussing misperceptions the public often has regarding the department.
The size of the department and their scope of work are often not understood. In larger municipalities, there is often a separate department devoted to streets. In Grain Valley, the Public Works department is responsible for streets, water, sewer, and storm water systems in the City. When a winter storm event occurs, the City relies on 2 shifts of 5 people including office personnel to maintain 140 lane miles.
Three primary trucks are sent out during a snow event, each covering a specified route. Crews focus on clearing main roads first, then focus on secondary roads, and finally hitting subdivision streets and cul-de-sacs. The process repeats as winter weather continues. The recent winter storm that resulted in nearly 10 inches of snow in Grain Valley kept crews running for more than 3 12-hour shifts.
“You’re driving a truck in the worst conditions, and have to be aware of vehicles, mailboxes, and children playing. The lights on top of the truck are running, and you are constantly monitoring the temperature, adjusting controls, and communicating by radio to the office. It’s a challenge to stay alert over a 12-hour shift,” Welsh said.
Every storm is different and Public Works staff evaluates the current weather conditions, ground temperature, and forecast to determine what type of treatments should be applied to roads.
“If it is going to rain ahead of time, we won’t pre-treat as it will all wash away, and beyond wasting money, that is not good for the ecology of our community. We are concerned about the environmental health of our community and continually receive training to be aware of these issues,” Elledge said.
“It’s a new world in terms of street treatment and our concentration on the environment. We calibrate all of our trucks to only drop what is necessary and have a lot of tools we can use to monitor ground temperature and weather conditions so we can determine how best to treat the streets,” Welsh said.
“Our aldermen and everyone at City Hall is committed to making sure that we have good equipment to be able to fight the snow with. They take good care of us on that front,” Elledge said.
Once the main arteries and side streets have been cleared, crews will return to residential areas to “curb out” areas to allow for mail delivery. While crews do their best to pile snow out of the way of resident driveways, it is not an easy task, especially on residential streets and cul-de-sacs.
“People think we can put the snow wherever we want to put it, but it is not quite that easy,” Martin said.
The recent polar vortex that brought subzero temperatures to the area created another headache for Public Works employees and affected neighbors: frozen pipes.
“We have a small crew, 2 shifts of 5 people including office personnel. Eight people in the field cover street maintenance. The same people trying to treat the snow are also going out on calls related to frozen pipes. So not only are we trying to treat the streets for snow, but we had 15-16 calls last week related to frozen pipes,” Elledge said.
As the crews are also tasked with maintaining City streets, plow drivers are often noting potholes as they clear snow and treat roads.
“As we were out plowing the roads last week, we were on the radio calling in a list of potholes to fix once the snow melts,” Welsh said.
Public Works employees have been treating potholes between winter storms with a cold mix, and once spring arrives, crews will return with hot asphalt mix for a more permanent solution.
Hydrants, water meters, and valves become the focus in the spring. The department’s task list includes maintaining and replacing hydrants, water meters, and valves, tapping main lines, and installing water meters to hook up water service to new construction.
“We will also replace around 375 water meters each year as a part of our annual replacement program,” Martin said.
The department also maintains the City’s sewer and storm lines and completes a number of road projects annually. Public Works is also responsible for creating and maintaining street signage.
“I am proud of the achievements our crews have made over the years. Our team has strived to be more interactive with the community and in doing so have seen great support from our citizens and elected officials. Our crews know above all how important transportation, water and sewer utilities are for the health and safety our community. It is important that our residents know that their Public Works Department is working for them night and day, weekdays and holidays; not just during winter storms but for any natural event that may disrupt those utilities,” Rick Arroyo, Community Development Director said.
“Our biggest strength is our versatility. We have a great crew that shows up ready to work and willing to do whatever we need to do to get the job done. If it’s a new project or a one-off project we need to tackle, our crews will take it on and if we don’t know how to do something, we’ll figure it out together,” Martin said.
The interior of a snow plow cab, showing a portion of the controls drivers must manage while clearing streets. Visit www.grainvalleynews.com for a video showing the view from the cab. Photo credit: Valley News staff